The best Renaissance books 📚

Browse the best books on the Renaissance as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

By Stephen Greenblatt

Why this book?

I suspect everyone who writes shares a secret belief that a single book has the power to change the world – but how often does a world-famous academic come along with a brilliantly readable book explaining exactly how, where, when, and why this actually happened. (Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things, rediscovered in 1417 by a book hunter named Bracciolini.)

The only non-fiction book on my list, I love The Swerve unreservedly for the evidence it provides – if any were needed – that while our literary dreams of making the world a better place almost certainly won’t come…

From the list:

The best historical adventure books that also make you think

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Book cover of The Renaissance in Italy: A Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento

The Renaissance in Italy: A Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento

By Guido Ruggiero

Why this book?

This book is a fantastic, broad overview of the Italian Renaissance (or rinascimento, the term Ruggiero prefers and which his subjects would have recognized). The Italian Rinascimento was a period, according to Ruggiero, of vibrant cities, social change, and cultural expression, in which intellectuals, politicians, and artists both looked back to an idealized classical past and forward to uncharted territory.

I love the way this book focuses on issues that preoccupied the people he studies and incorporates topics often absent from works on the Renaissance, including women, sexuality, economics, disease and death, and religion, among others. Even more important,…

From the list:

The best books on Renaissance Italy

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Book cover of The Establishment of the European Hegemony, 1415-1715: Trade and Exploration in the Age of the Renaissance

The Establishment of the European Hegemony, 1415-1715: Trade and Exploration in the Age of the Renaissance

By J.H. Parry

Why this book?

When I was first attracted to exploration history, I was mostly interested in the 19th and 20th centuries, but wanting to understand its pedigree, I searched back to the great voyages of the Renaissance and kept running into books by Parry. He’s everywhere, and always insightful.

His most widely read book is The Age of Reconnaissance: Discovery, Exploration, and Settlement, 1450-1650. But despite its clunky title, Establishment is my favorite because it distills the whole story – its events, its technology, its intellectual foundations – into almost crystalline form. A wonderful place to begin, or to return to and…

From the list:

The best books on the history of exploration

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Book cover of Picture and Poetry, 1560-1620: Relations Between Literature and the Visual Arts in the English Renaissance

Picture and Poetry, 1560-1620: Relations Between Literature and the Visual Arts in the English Renaissance

By Lucy Gent

Why this book?

A quirky and brilliantly insightful book which is now, unfortunately, out of print. But do snap it up if you chance upon it in a second-hand bookshop or can find a copy online. It is deceptively modest-looking: a slender paperback, with only a handful of illustrations. My hunch is that it will change the way you think about paintings, sculptures, and buildings in the works of Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne, and their contemporaries. Certainly, that is the effect it had on me.

From the list:

The best books on Tudor art and architecture

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Book cover of The History of Cartography, Volume 3: Cartography in the European Renaissance

The History of Cartography, Volume 3: Cartography in the European Renaissance

By David Woodward

Why this book?

You won’t be curling up in bed with this two-volume, 2,272-page encyclopedic history of cartography in the European Renaissance—but if you’ve got a passion for maps, or if you want the most comprehensive source of information on the cartography of the period, it’s a delightful and even essential work to consult. The essays are diverse and deeply informative, and the reproductions, including 80 gorgeous color plates, are a treat to spend time with.

From the list:

The best books on the geographical ideas that informed the age of discovery

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Book cover of The Renaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Life--A Creative and Practical Guide

The Renaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Life--A Creative and Practical Guide

By Margaret Lobenstine

Why this book?

Another important antecedent to How to Be Everything, this book offers a serious focus on career, work, and revenue streams. Lobesnstine, a career and life coach, makes the argument that a need for variety and love for finding new challenges are not liabilities, but assets. If you’re ready to get down to business, this might be the read for you.

From the list:

The best books for when you have too many passions and can't figure out what to do with your life

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